Minority Language
I Am A Mom, Raising Multilingual Children

How To Get Your Child Excited About Their Minority Language

So, I promised you something exciting, and here it is- my first guest post! I am very happy to welcome Tallulah of Bilingual Babes! Tallulah raises two multilingual children (the languages spoken in her family include: English, French, Mandarin and  Twi!). In this post, Tallulah writes on how to get your child excited about the minority language- I love and appreciate her tips, and I know you will, too! Thank you, Tallulah!
When all around are talking the majority language, how do you get your child excited about talking a minority one? This was a huge issue for me when Pan-Pan was around age 3. He was Mr English from the start, grumbled about talking French, never wanted to chat in anything but English, and evidently thought learning French a pointless waste of time! After all, I seemed to be the only other person in his world who spoke the language, and I understood English, so why bother? Such seemed to be his logic, while I quietly pulled my hair out! I started dreaming up ways to make French seem useful and exciting, and it did eventually seem to sink in that French is fun! Here are some of the things we tried:
French culture is full of fun things to get my kids excited about the language. The best thing is La Fête des Rois or the Festival of Kings, when the Galette des Rois is served, a special cake that has a fève or token in it. Whoever wins the fève is King or Queen for the day! Last time my son celebrated this festival at school, he came home absolutely flying, telling me he had been crowned King and got to choose one of the girls as his Queen. Then he confessed he’d ‘cheated’, by eating slice after slice of the Galette until he found the precious fève
I know it’s not always possible, but you really can’t beat a trip to wherever your minority language is spoken! The last time we managed to get to France, I made sure we booked a few ateliers, which are workshops for children. My kids took a cooking class and an art class, both taught in French, alongside other French-speaking children. Peer pressure is so powerful, I’m sure that one of these ateliers is worth a hundred second language classes back home!
Screen time
I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but I feel so strongly about it it’s worth another mention: try to keep all screen time in the minority language only. The best thing about this rule is that kids are so motivated to watch telly or go on the computer that they’re unlikely to fight you much on it. Also, as they usually get so little out of screen time it’s nice to feel they’re learning something during those zombie couch potato moments! I’ve instilled this rule since before my kids were old enough to remember, but due to the motivation factor it should be perfectly possible to bring this rule in for older children too. While minority language screen time won’t teach your kids a second language in isolation, when combined with opportunities to speak that language it can be quite powerful. My kids have both learned new words from favourite French films, and it’s no doubt helped with their accent too. Because they get excited about watching movies, they make a fun association with French too.
If you want to go one better than screen time, play storytapes in the minority language. These give no clues to what’s going on except for the spoken words, so your child really has to listen hard to understand. Of course your child requires some fluency before these will make sense (I haven’t got to the stage where I can play Mandarin storytapes yet!) but if your child already has a basic understanding of the language, then storytapes are wonderful for improving their listening comprehension and accent. We always play French stories in the car and my kids LOVE them! We have a whole pile of them that we rotate and they each have their favourites.
There are so many games you can play in the minority language. With board games, go for ones that encourage speaking or writing, such as Taboo and Scrabble. There are many simple games you can play with no props at all, of course, such as ‘I Spy’, or ‘Beep when I say something in the wrong (ie majority!) language’.
All in all, these were the tricks that really got our kids excited about their minority language. As regular readers know, Pan-Pan now adores French and trips happily between his two mother tongues.
How do you get your children excited about their minority languages? And don’t forget to check out Tallulah’s blog here, like her Facebook page, and/or follow her on Twitter

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  • Reply Lynn @ Nomad Parents January 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    I totally agree with these tips – especially the one about travel. What works equally as well is having someone from the minority language travel to you. My kids’ Italian gets much better when the nonni come to visit. Thanks for the great guest post 🙂

    • Reply The European Mama January 26, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Yes, Tallulah is really giving some great tips here! Oh yes, you are right with the family member traveling to you- it’s also about travel but you’re just not the one doing it! The idea is of course, to have somebody the children like to talk to them in the minority language!

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